AskDefine | Define labdanum

Dictionary Definition

labdanum

Noun

1 a dark brown to greenish oleoresin that has a fragrant odor and is used as a fixative in perfumes; obtained as a juice from certain rockroses [syn: gum labdanum]
2 a soft blackish-brown resinous exudate from various rockroses used in perfumes especially as a fixative [syn: ladanum]

Extensive Definition

Labdanum is a sticky brown resin obtained from the shrubs Cistus ladanifer (western Mediterranean) and Cistus creticus (eastern Mediterranean), species of rockrose. It has a long history of use in herbal medicine and as a perfume ingredient.

History

In ancient times, the resin was scraped from the fur of goats and sheep that had grazed on the cistus shrubs. It was collected by the shepherds and sold to coastal traders. The false beards worn by the pharaohs of ancient Egypt were actually the labdanum soaked hair of these goats. Later long poles with leather or cloth strips were used to sweep the shrubs and collect the resin which was later extracted. It was used to treat colds, coughs, menstrual problems and rheumatism.

Modern uses

Labdanum is produced today mainly for the perfume industry. The raw resin is usually extracted by boiling the leaves and twigs. An absolute is also obtained by solvent extraction. An essential oil is produced by steam distillation. The raw gum is a dark brown, fragrant mass containing up to 20% or more of water. It is plastic but not pourable, and becomes brittle with age. The absolute is dark amber-green and very thick at room temperature. The fragrance more refined than the raw resin. The odour is very rich, complex and tenacious. Labdanum is much valued in perfumery because of its resemblance to ambergris, which has been banned from use in many countries because its precursor originates from the sperm whale, which is an endangered species. (Opposition to the use of ambergris on humanitarian grounds is, in fact, irrational and originates from a false notion that ambergris is taken, as tonkin musk was from the musk deer, from the body of the endangered sperm whale; in fact ambergris is a sort of phlegm the whale coughs up, which then floats on the ocean and chemically matures under sunlight; there is no harm whatsoever to the whale.) Labdanum's odour is variously described as animalic, sweet, woody, ambergris, dry musk, or leathery.

See also

labdanum in German: Labdanum
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